All eyes were on Calgary this weekend, as Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, and Thomas Mulcair kicked off the pre-election BBQ circuit. Despite the extra media attention, this year’s fashion round-up is a rather tame affair. When you get the truly horrible photo ops is during leadership races when Bay Street Liberals and Annex Socialists venture west for the first time. For the three men vying to win this fall’s election, this isn’t their first rodeo.
And, of course, everyone had to get their picture with Calgary’s most photographed landmark, Naheed Nenshi.
I assume this wasn’t Rachel Notley’s first Stampede, but this marks the first Stampede where anyone recognized Rachel Notley. That placed a lot of pressure on her, especially since Ed Stelmach called it the “Alberta Stampede” and looked completely out of place during his first Stampede as Premier.
Notley…well she rode a friggin’ horse. Anyone who rides a horse is deemed to have won at Stampeding. It’s that simple.
As for what’s left of the Alberta PCs? The good news is their entire Calgary caucus could carpool together in the parade this year.
Finally, we end this post on a sad note. After losing two nominations and being told “thanks but no thanks” in his bid to run for the most right wing party in Canada, this will mark Rob Anders’ final Stampede as an elected member of Parliament in Calgary. Luckily, Rob took it in stride and was still smiling.
SUPER IMPORTANT VERY URGENT UPDATE:
No sooner had I posted this round-up, than Rachel Notley did the unthinkable, and was caught wearing her cowboy hat backwards.
As discussed above, a Premier’s first Stampede is a dangerous place.
Still, Notley gets credit for riding a horse and not grimacing like she was trapped in some kind of hillbilly horror show. As for her slip-up, the Post’s Jen Gerson put it best:
Mocking Notley for her imperfect grasp of the white Smithbilt during Stampede is a little like picking on a cosplay actor who misplaced the buttons on the breathing apparatus of a Darth Vader costume at ComiCon.
These days, it must feel good to be Thomas Mulcair. The polls show he has a chance to become Canada’s first NDP Prime Minister, and the entire country has been engulfed in an orange afterglow since the Alberta election. But as Uncle Ben once said, with great polling comes great scrutiny.
Indeed, one of the downsides of surging four months before election day is that leaves a lot of time for journalists and voters to put everything you’ve ever said or done under the microscope, and study it at the atomic level.
So when you make the type of verbal slip-up we all make from time to time, people are a lot more likely to notice.
And now this:
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair was in discussions in 2007 to join the Conservative party as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, discussions that several sources, including former senior Harper staffers, say was the first step in securing Mulcair to run as a Conservative candidate in 2008.
The negotiations between the Conservative government and the man who is today leader of the left-leaning official Opposition allegedly broke down over money: Mulcair wanted nearly double what Harper’s office offered, two sources tell Maclean’s.
Contacted today for comment, Mulcair says conversations about an advisory role with the government did occur, but talks broke down, not over money, but over the Conservatives’ environmental policies.
This has been talked about for some time, so it’s not a bombshell. It’s also not overly surprising if you think about it.
For most politicians, their greatest strength can be turned into a weakness. Stephen Harper is strong, but many call him authoritarian. Justin Trudeau is fresh, but the flip side of the coin is inexperience. Mulcair likes to portray himself as a politician with experience who knows how the game is played – but that also means he knows how the game is played. It’s only natural that a political pro like Mulcair would try to squeeze taxpayer dollars for partisan purposes, or would consider his options before jumping to federal politics.
Many will dismiss theses as allegations from the Conservative side of the negotiations, but the problem for Mulcair is that even his own side of the story will seem rather unseemly to many New Democrats. It’s all very good to say talks broke down over the environment, but I suspect most NDP voters have more than one stumbling block with the Harper government. Mulcair says he talked to at least three separate individuals about joining Harper’s team between 2006 and 2007. Most New Democrats, if asked to become an adviser to Stephen Harper, would laugh rather than set up a series of meetings to discuss terms.
The whole ordeal reminds me of the old joke:
Churchill: “Madam, would you sleep with me for five million pounds?”
Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… “
Churchill: “Would you sleep with me for five pounds?”
Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of woman do you think I am?!”
Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price.”
Whether the talks broke off due to money or a single issue is mostly irrelevant in this case. The fact that Mulcair was negotiating establishes what kind of man he is.
The defeat of the PCs seemed unthinkable a few months ago. The notion they could lose to the NDP would have been laughable. But this is how politics in Alberta works. Every 30 or 40 years, a Chinook blows over the mountain and sweeps in a new government who has never before held power. So after a wild couple of years, we can probably all ignore Alberta politics until the middle of the Century (when Stephen Harper’s granddaughter runs for Premier).
Even though the polls foretold an NDP win, Albertans have rightly grown cynical of the polls, so there were still plenty of surprised faces on all sides of the spectrum tonight. Outside Alberta, it won’t just be surprise tomorrow, but consternation over how Alberta could turn orange. With the NDP floundering in Manitoba, it seems likely Alberta will be Canada’s lone socialist province this time next year. The province will stand out like an old man in an orange speedo at a formal ball.
Alberta is used to standing out, but for different reasons. For years, the province cultivated and cherished its reputation as the bad boy of confederation. There were the “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark!” bumper stickers. Ann Coulter called the province “the good Canadians”. It likely didn’t help that Ralph Klein was the face of Alberta for a decade.
The thing is, that bad boy reputation was always more bluster than reality. Everyone noticed when Calgarians elected a Harvard-educated Muslim as Mayor in 2010 – all the more, because those latte sipping pinkos in Toronto elected Rob Ford a week earlier. Three years later, Edmontonians elected 34-year Don Iveson – Canada’s first openly nerd mayor.
But Edmonton has always been dubbed “Redmonton” for its political leanings, and Nenshi is only the latest in a string of Liberal mayors from Calgary. If you look at the results from the last few provincial elections, you’ll quickly realize Alberta hasn’t been a Conservative monolith since before Calgary hosted the Olympics.
Yes, progressives flocked to the PCs last election, but only because Alison Redford looked and sounded like a progressive. In every other election from the past 30 years, over a third of Albertans have voted for parties on the left.
But that’s always been a more complicated story to tell than the caricature of crazy conservative Alberta which, admittedly, some of our politicians (*cough*Rob Anders*cough*) did not help to dispel.
Similarly, many will simplify the story of tonight to Albertans swinging wildly to the left. While it’s true the province has changed, those changes have been gradual. What really happened in 2015 was Rachel Notley looking like a safe option for change, at a time when voters wanted change. The fact that Notley made Thomas Mulcair feel as welcome in Alberta as a rat (or worse, a Canucks fan) in the dying days of this campaign tells you all you need to know about the strength of the NDP brand. So don’t expect “howdy” to be replaced with “welcome comrade” the next time you land in Calgary.
No, Alberta hasn’t changed. But the perception of Alberta will. Rachel Notley, Naheed Nenshi, and Don Iveson are now the face of the province. The myth of Alberta as a conservative wasteland is dead.
The 2012 clash between Danielle Smith and Alison Redford was an epic battle between two gifted politicians. It was must-see-TV for political junkies. The 2015 campaign? It reads like a script of Gilligan’s Island with bumbling gaffes and nonsensical plot lines. I mean, honestly, the prospect of an NDP government in Alberta seems about as plausible as a coconut phone.
A month ago, I wrote a tongue-in-cheek Alberta political primer about Jim Prentice’s inevitable march to a landslide election victory.
The Mainstreet Technologies automated phone survey of 3,121 Alberta voters conducted on April 13 shows the Wildrose and NDP in a statistical tie for first place at 31 per cent and 30 per cent support among decided voters, respectively.
The Tories are in third place with 24 per cent, while the Liberals come in at 10 per cent, and the Alberta Party at five per cent in the survey.
I guess that shows why you should never listen to the musings of someone living in Ontario about Alberta politics.
In my defense, when Brian Jean launched his Wildrose leadership bid on February 25th, he didn’t even pretend he had a chance:
“Bluntly, I don’t think it’s one we can win at this stage. It is a rebuilding one but we need in Alberta a strong, solid opposition that can keep the government to account,” Jean, a 52-year-old lawyer and businessman, said with a number of Wildrose candidates standing behind him.
One assumes Jim Prentice felt the same way, or he wouldn’t have broken Alberta’s fixed election date law in his eagerness to go to the polls.
So what on earth happened? How is it that the PCs are now bleeding on both sides?
The orange wave is easier to explain. Here’s the combined Liberal/NDP vote share for the last 6 elections:
Despite the caricature of Alberta as a conservative hegemony, the left regularly collects over a third of the vote. Liberal and NDP voters rallied to Alison Redford to stop the Wildrose last election, but there’s likely a lot of buyers remorse on that front. Prentice has done little for progressive Albertans since taking power, and by showing a deaf ear on the issue of Gay-Straight alliances, he essentially ripped up the “Wildrose are scary bigots” card that Redford played to perfection three years ago. With progressives abandoning the PCs, it’s understandable they would gravitate to the NDP – they have a strong leader in Rachel Notley, while the provincial Liberals are in complete disarray.
The dynamics on the right are more difficult to understand.
The Wildrose looked like a smoldering ruin after Danielle Smith’s defection this fall. They’ve still got money in the bank, and a new leader – but Brian Jean was an unimpressive backbencher, and he’s had little time to introduce himself to voters. With all due respect to Jean, it’s safe to say he’s not responsible for the Wildrose resurgence. Rather, this appears to be driven by anger over a bad news budget that pleased no one.
Given many pollsters wrote PC obituaries three years ago, I haven’t talked to a single person who believes Prentice will lose. The common wisdom is that once Albertans blow off steam over the budget, they’re going to realize they’re electing a government, and neither the Wildrose nor the NDP were even pretending to be ready for government a few weeks ago.
Danielle Smith was someone who sounded like she could run the province. Brian Jean? Not so much. Smith must sob every time a new poll comes out.
But Prentice is now fighting a war on two fronts, with 44 years of baggage on his shoulders and the low price of oil pulling him down. If the last month has taught us anything, it’s that we’d be foolish to make any predictions about how this one will turn out.
Blogging has been sporadic of late, but with Alberta barrelling towards an election, now is likely a good time for another Alberta Politics FAQ.
When will the next Alberta election be?
Alberta’s fixed-ish election date legislation calls for a vote between March 1st and May 31st, 2016. Prentice, being a true reformer at heart, has said he will respect this.
Ha ha. No, of course not. Most expect an election call to immediately follow the March 26th budget.
Alberta’s fixed election date law has proven to be about as binding as Alberta’s balanced budget law.
So who’s going to win the election?
Well, yeah, that seems likely, but isn’t there a chance…
But surely if there are a few more “blame Alberta” moments, and…
No. Not one of the opposition parties is even pretending they’re fighting for anything but second place.
This election was over the moment Danielle Smith decided the election wasn’t worth fighting.
So why did Danielle Smith cross the floor?
A year ago, Alison Redford was under fire for spending $45,000 of taxpayer funds for a charter flight back from Nelson Mandela’s funeral (plus $3 for headphones). And because she spent thousands to fly her daughter and friend on government planes. And because she wanted to spend government funds on a private penthouse suite for herself in Edmonton. And because she had her staff create “ghost flyers” so that she wouldn’t have to sit next to the proles on her flights.
It just proves the old saying that governments tend to grow out of touch during their 13th consecutive term in power.
Exit Redford. Enter Prentice.
Prentice quickly announced two popular policies:
1. Scrapping an unpopular plan to redesign Alberta license plates.
2. Not being Alison Redford.
While this gave the PCs a jolt of life, there were still storm clouds on the horizon:
1. Prentice was leading a 43-year old government which had barely escaped defeat two years earlier.
2. With oil prices tanking, he would need to raise taxes or cut services in his first budget.
3. In one of his first leadership tests, he completely bungled the issue of Gay-Straight Alliances in schools. His compromise would have forced teenagers to go to court if a school board said no. His cold “rights are never absolute” response left many irate. “Maybe that should be on the license plate” tweeted Rick Mercer.
By showing a deft ear, Prentice had effectively torn up the “Wildrose are bigots” card he no doubt intended to play during the next election.
But hey, Prentice had an insurmountable 6-point lead in the polls. And he managed to hold 4 PC seats in by-elections. I mean, really, what chance did Danielle Smith have?
So, down by 1 goal in the second period, Danielle Smith concluded the situation was hopeless, and she gave up.
What now for the Wildrose Party?
The Wildrosers will select a new leader on March 28th, at which point they’ll have a day or two to print the signs, draft a platform, record commercials, round out their candidate slate, and find a bus that doesn’t cause us all to giggle.
Three candidates are contesting the leadership:
You may know Drew Barnes as one of the “Wildrose 5″ who did not defect.
You may know Brian Jean as the former backbench CPC MP who sent crossword puzzles about himself to his constituents (what’s a 9-letter word for excessive preoccupation with ones self?).
You may know Linda Osinchuk if you are related to Linda Osinchuk.
Still, even though they are now little more than a fringe group of angry right wingers, the Wildrose Party still said “we’re too good for you, Rob Anders“. Which shows they have higher standards than the federal Conservatives, if nothing else.
And the Liberals?
They’re also leaderless, after Raj Sherman abruptly resigned last month. They won’t be selecting a permanent leader until after the election, but it’s not like they’ve had much success with leaders lately, so why not?
So the opposition parties are all leaderless heading into the election?
You’re forgetting about the NDP, which is understandable. But Rachel Notley is an impressive politician.
Still, the NDP are non-factors outside Edmonton – they failed to crack 4% of the vote in any of the three Calgary by-elections last fall. Those were the same by-elections that caused Danielle Smith to thrown in the towel, and she got 9 times as many votes as the NDP.
And with the divided vote on the left, it’s hard to imagine the NDP taking more than 6 or 7 seats in Edmonton.
Still, that will likely be enough to make Notley leader of the opposition.
Yeah, vote splitting…it doesn’t really make sense for Alberta to have 2 parties to the left of the PCs does it?
Oh, you are not going to like what I have to tell you next.
The divided left has been a problem in Alberta for years. So progressives looked at the situation and reached the only logical conclusion as to what was needed: A third progressive party.
Enter the Alberta Party. After a lot of listening and a lot of tweeting, the Alberta Party earned just 17,172 votes province-wide last election.
So, at least those vote splitting concerns proved unfounded.
Well then, what’s this about Laurie Blakeman working to unite the left?
Last week, Blakeman announced she had been nominated by the Liberals, Alberta Party, and Alberta Greens (yeah, there’s a fourth party on the left) as their candidate in Edmonton Centre.
While I applaud Ms. Blakeman for this step towards uniting the left, this is about as small a step as one could possibly take. Step is likely too strong a word. Maybe inching? It’s barely a new development, as neither the Alberta Party nor the Greens ran against Blakeman last election. In 2008, the two parties earned a combined 514 votes in Edmonton Centre. I guess having their logos on her lit makes for nice symbolism, but this isn’t exactly the Wayne Gretzky endorsement.
So basically you’re saying that with a long time, scandal-plagued government battling an economic collapse, the opposition is leaderless, infective, and divided.
Is Jim Prentice the luckiest guy in the world?
Yes. Yes, he is.
Here’s a fun exercise for aspiring communications directors out there. Complete the following sentence, in a way that isn’t offesnive: “I’m going to put this in terms of colours but it’s not meant to be about race…”.
Now try that, using the words “whities” and “brown people”.